This story is by Grace Hale and was part of our 2017 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out.
Dark clouds sat on the horizon overhead. I was running tirelessly across the barren landscape, desperate to reach the rain. Behind me, I heard Hibiki panting from the run.
“Onyx…” he breathed, slowing, “Wait…”
“We have to go. We can’t stop, no matter what Hibi. You know that,” I replied, leaning over to catch my breath. I tried to ignore the fact that I couldn’t actually see my feet anymore, and that even my hands were looking a little hazy. This was what every ghost was afraid of.
I turned to glance at Hibi. He was looking pale; the bottoms of his calves weren’t visible anymore. He had it worse than me! If we couldn’t get to the rain in time, we would fade away completely.
“Onyx-” he started.
I stared at him, fear rising in my heart. “This is our only chance. It hasn’t rained in years.”
He did nothing to acknowledge I had spoken to him. He stood silently, letting his gaze travel forlornly over the broken landscape. The only things to be seen were twisted pieces of metal and dust. The sky was a polluted, moistureless gray up until where the storm was brewing on the horizon. A sigh escaped my lips. We were so close. Hibi softly approached, placing his hand gently on my shoulder.
“Hibi … I shifted to look at his face. His choppy chestnut brown hair framed it perfectly, and his eyes glowed almost white in color. “I just didn’t want this to be the end. We- we have to try, even if we disappear trying.”
He let out a sigh and a small smile lit his face, “Okay, ‘Nyx.”
I groaned and shook him off. “Well then, let’s get going.” With that I grabbed his hand, pulling him forward. Breathing in a sharp updraft of moist air, my focus was renewed.
We began running across the vast plain, avoiding the rubble that littered our path. The storm was far in the distance, hanging in midair over the desolate foothills. Hibiki ran beside me, his pace smooth despite his condition. His fading was progressing quicker than mine, and watching him become more transparent put me on edge.
“Onyx…my legs…” Turning around, I saw that his calves were transparent. He could still walk as if they were there, but the more he faded, the more taxing it was to exist. His hand was only a pale outline in mine.
I took a deep breath, ignoring the doubt that was setting in on me. “Just don’t look at your legs. Pretend they’re there, and keep running!”
He nodded, his expression determined. Concentrating on keeping a steady pace, I looked up at the clouds. Booming thunder echoed over the landscape as silver tendrils of rain began to fall. Unable to suppress the excitement I felt at the sight of it, a chill went down my spine. I grinned.
Rain. After so long, rain.
All I could do was surge forward in hope that we could make it in time.
A howling wind picked up as we continued, one that I knew well from years of hearing it rip across the valley. It was pushing at our backs…
“No!” I shouted. “It’ll push the rain in the opposite direction!” Coughing, a wave of exhaustion crept over me. Hibi peered at me with worry in his gaze.
“Don’t worry about me. You’re the one we both need to be concerned about,” I scolded, hardly able to hear my own voice over the wind.
“Who’s worried?” he asked rhetorically.
“We can’t waste time. Just focus on running!” I snapped back.
The wind pushed at our backs, driving us forward. Hibiki linked arms with me and we let the wind push us, at the same time trying not to fall from its merciless force. I could feel the fading slowly creeping over me, but I didn’t look at how much was gone. It felt like my limbs were asleep, but even moving wouldn’t wake them up.
It was only when silence settled over us when I realized that the winds had toned down. With a gasp, I looked up. The sky was a dull, moistureless gray again. Cloudless. Just like that, the rain was gone.
“Nooo! The rain is gone! It can’t- I can’t- I-” I gasped, sprinting forward as if running would make the rain return. Shock spread through my veins until I couldn’t stand any longer.
I fell to my knees before I noticed they weren’t there anymore, only a faint sliver outline remaining. I let out a long, air-splitting scream, refusing to stop until the pain in my lungs was too much to bear. The moisture I had just felt moments before was already being replaced by dry, stifling air.
“I can’t- I…I don’t wanna…don’t wanna -” My voice was rough. It hurt to speak.
“Fade away? I don’t either, Onyx,” he said with a warm undertone.
I turned to glare at him, “How are you so calm?! How can you accept the end so easily?!”
He smiled, taking his time to sit down beside me, “Because I figured if I faded with you, at least I would be with the one person I care about the most, not alone.”
“Hibi …I-” I stuttered, shocked, “Am I really that important?”
He laughed lightly, tilting his head to one side. “Who found me when I was sulking after the car wreck that killed me? Who saved me from a second death over and over again? Who demanded pop tarts from me just about every moment of the day to keep me on my toes?”
I gave him a flat look. “Well, the last one made it pretty obvious that it was me. But that was back when there actually were pop tarts, so it doesn’t count.”
Hibi grinned, “Well, I guess so.” His carefree expression made a smile creep up on me, then before I knew it I was laughing, despite everything.
“Onyx- look at me.”
I reluctantly turned my head to look at him. The smile he gave me brought back memories of a long time ago, when fading hadn’t been a worry. It was the same look he gave when trying to cheer me up, make me feel less serious. Even though I was nearly non-existent, this was the most real thing I had ever felt. He touched my cheek with the pale outline that was his hand. I didn’t feel his touch, it was as if he wasn’t there. Or maybe, it was me who wasn’t there. That calm smile, his smooth tone- he was acting like this was goodbye. I gripped his wrist in anger, relieved to find there was still something to hold.
“I can’t-I won’t-” I choked on my words. “I won’t fade away!” I snarled, as if to convince him to hold on.
His smile tried to hide the inside of him that was frustrated, scared, and full of hate for this situation. His voice shook with a waver in it that I had never heard before when he spoke, “Onyx, I want to see you smile again.”
“Hibi!” I screamed. I was losing him, just like I was losing myself. I gripped onto his faded wrist tighter, refusing to let go. I wondered why I cared so much, why this was so hard. The Onyx he knew never panicked, was never scared; The Onyx he knew was always holding strong.
I couldn’t feel anything anymore. Only a burning desire not to fade away, not to let this be the end. “I won’t let go!”
Suddenly, he was leaning into me, squeezing hard what was left of me. I shut my eyes, clenching my jaw in the pain of the moment. I couldn’t stand this suffocating feeling inside.
As if he knew what I was feeling, Hibi spoke,”Breathe, Onyx.”
I took a deep breath, listening to his advice for once. It felt good; the pressure that had settled on me was gone. When I opened my eyes Hibiki was whispering in my ear, “It’s okay to let go.”
“Okay,” I replied. I grinned, still leaning on him,”Who said you could hug me?”
I could hear him chuckling. Closing my eyes, I let out a sigh. A warm feeling came over me. All of the pain stopped but was replaced by a strange emptiness. I felt like all of my contents had been spilled out, and now there was nothing left. I let everything go. My vision went dark.
Then I opened my eyes.